How to Air Dry Lingerie Without That Awful Damp Smell

by Estelle Puleston

What do you do with your lingerie after you’ve washed it? The tumble dryer is by far the quickest and easiest way to get it dry, but it’s also the quickest and easiest way to destroy it. The extreme heat breaks down elastic fibers, something that’s crucial to lingerie fit. Here’s an earlier blog post I wrote showing exactly what a few trips through the tumble dryer can do to your favourite bra.

However, if you live in a country that’s cold, or particularly humid, you may think you have no other option. In wintertime in the UK, I would sometimes leave things hanging indoors to dry and two days later they would still be damp! Oh, and smelling awful by then too.

The bad odour is caused by mildew. When clothes are left moist for a prolonged time, especially if they’re made from natural fibers such as cotton or silk, they become the perfect environment for this fungus to thrive in. Even if you can Febreeze the smell away, mildew-ridden lingerie is not something you want to put against your body!

So how can you dry your lingerie in a way that protects these delicate garments, but leaves them smelling clean and fresh?

How to get the excess water out

1. Gently squeeze after washing

If you hand wash your lingerie (which I always recommend), you’ll need to get as much of that excess water out as possible before leaving it to dry. However, wringing/twisting lingerie can lead to bent underwires, stretched fabrics and other damage. Instead, gently squeeze the water out.

For unlined bras, I simply gather the cup fabric as pictured above and squeeze, being careful not to pull on any seams. For moulded bras, you want to avoid deforming the cup so it’s better to press it between the palms of your hands or between a towel. For knickers, tights and other soft pieces, I roll them up and give them a gentle squeeze.

2. Use a salad spinner

This isn’t a method I use personally, but a lot of people swear by it. If you machine-wash your lingerie, it doesn’t come out dripping wet because the spin cycle at the end gets the bulk of the water out. You can recreate this effect in a more gentle way with a large salad spinner.

Simply pop your damp bras and knickers in and spin for a few minutes. I wouldn’t recommend this idea for anything particularly delicate however, such as beaded fabrics or fine lace.

3. Press between a towel

An alternative way to remove excess water is to simply fold a dry towel around the lingerie, and press down on it. You’ll know it’s working because the towel will get noticeably damper as the underwear gets drier! Again, it’s best not to crush moulded cups, but you can use this technique for any garments that lie flat.

How to air dry your lingerie

1. Hang items spaced apart

Whether you use a washing line, clothes horse or one of those circular hanging racks with pegs for your lingerie, be sure to space items so that they aren’t touching, and never lay items on top of each other. Clothes dry much faster when air can circulate between them, wicking the moisture away from all sides.

2. Dry somewhere with good ventilation and low humidity

Again, air needs to be able to flow to get your lingerie dry. If you leave it in a small, enclosed space, it will stay damp for longer. Leaving a window open or drying it outside on a breezy day can be good ideas, but obviously not that helpful in a place where it’s always raining. Moving your drying rack from a small room to a larger one can make a difference.

It’s also important to dry your lingerie in air that isn’t humid. When the atmosphere is already pretty saturated with water vapour, it’s harder for the water in your clothes to evaporate off into it. Don’t keep your lingerie drying rack in a steamed-up bathroom while you’re showering, for example. And if you live in an area that’s regularly humid, or a home with a damp issue, it could be worth investing in a dehumidifier.

3. Remove cookies from padded bras

A sheer stocking dries out rapidly, but a waterlogged wedge of foam will take much longer! Take the padding inserts out of bras that have them, so that you’re drying two thinner layers rather than one thick one.

More tips for fresh-smelling lingerie

1. Keep your washing machine clean

If you wash your lingerie in the machine, that could be what’s causing the odour. With all their little crevices that water can sit and stagnate in, they are another perfect breeding ground for mildew and bacteria. And if your washing machine smells bad, don’t expect your bras to come out of it scented like roses.

After unloading the washing machine, leave the door open so that it can dry out inside. And periodically wash the machine itself. Set it to run on a high-temperature wash with nothing inside, using white vinegar or bleach in place of detergent.

2. Don’t store until fully dry

Coming back to the earlier tips on allowing air to circulate, when you put not-quite-dry lingerie back in your drawer or wardrobe and close it, it stays damp for quite some time. And that means mildew and a musty odour. So always make sure your lingerie has completely dried before you put it away.

3. Use baking soda or vinegar

Once a bad odour has set into a garment, it can be hard to get rid of. Simply rewashing the lingerie in your usual way may not always be enough. In this case, you can use baking soda and/or vinegar. These are a milder alternative to chemicals such as bleach, which I don’t recommend because it can damage delicate lingerie fabrics.

Mix a cup of either baking soda or white vinegar into a sink of lukewarm water, and leave the garment to soak in it for half an hour. Then rinse with clean water, and follow the tips above to dry it as quickly as possible.

4. Use drawer dessicants

We’ve all seen lingerie drawer sachets, little pouches filled with lavender, rose petals or fragranced beads to make your lingerie smell nice. If you want to use them, go ahead, but know that they don’t actually do anything to kill mold spores. They might just help to disguise the odour.

In humid climates especially, a drawer dessicant such as silica gel can keep mildew at bay by drying out the air in there. Try these if your bras and knickers go into the drawer smelling lovely, but come back out of it smelling musty.

Air-drying your lingerie needn’t be a chore, and chances are you won’t need to follow every tip on this list. Above all, remember two key rules: get as much of the excess water out as possible before you leave the lingerie to dry, and when you do, ensure that air is circulating between the garments.

Have problems with damp smells ever put you off air-drying your lingerie? Do you have any more tips to add?

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